Having said all this, I am terrible at fine dining. That is what this restaurant becomes at night so I can't work nights. The money is great, yes, but you can't talk to the customers, you can't laugh. You can't dance. Once, at a restaurant, a manager walked past me while I was getting down while putting sour cream in little plastic cups and said "Stop dancing or your fired". I quit that job. If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your re....staurant.
I busted my chops in a very different sort of restaurant than where I work now. The man who ran that place had a lot of fire and a lot of passion but very little business sense. Part of my training was to inform me that a "Safety Meeting" was when the staff convened in the walk-in to smoke pot. I did not smoke pot but I liked to cram in there with everyone else and sip a little cold white wine out of a soup cup while the frosty air filled with that beautiful green fragrance and we all calmed down and told jokes. Service was shoot from the hip. We were all expected to develop our own style and develop we did, every table had a very different experience. We tried to match the personalities of the servers with the tables but that didn't always work, the whole place had the feeling of eating on a ship in stormy waters with everyone careening here and there, port to starboard, with the place crewed by children and escaped exotic animals headed for other territories. We were drunk, we were stoned, we were sweaty, but damn if we weren't a family and we did care about the food. I miss that place, I miss the camaraderie we had, but I don't miss coming in to find my fellow server puking out the back of his van or the disher awol because he got arrested the night before. Once the cops actually came to the restaurant and the chef tried to get one of the severs, this sweet little girl from south Florida, to sneak out to the dry storage shed and hide the bong. No, I don't really miss that. But the thing is, I learned there. I learned how to do things on the fly and how to improvise in sticky situations. How to think on my feet and how to, no matter what, make the customer happy.
Someday I will run my own cafe. I dream of it at night when I'm falling asleep and in the morning over coffee. I think about the good parts of all the places I have worked and I plan how to fit them together into a crazy quilt that could be beautiful and strong. I think about a place that does not careen so much, but does allow room for a bit of listing. A place where the food is good and simple, where everyone gets fed, where you can see the cooks laughing in the kitchen. Someday I will serve my shortbread with coffee, and I will make a mean shepherds pie, I will slice jeweled tomatoes from local gardens onto sandwiches, and I will greet you when you come through the door. And I will encourage all the servers (who will probably be my family and friends and need no encouragement) to dance. Until then, all this is just training.